There are very few firearms as iconic as the MP5 family of submachine guns. They’ve starred in just about every action movie from 1970 through the 1990’s, appearing in such groundbreaking cinematic tours de force as Navy Seals starring Charlie Sheen, UHF starring Weird Al Yankovic, Escape from L.A. starring Kurt Russel, Sheena: Queen of the Jungle starring Tanya Roberts, and Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach starring Bubba Smith. You know — the classics. While Hollywood might like the gun for its sleek lines and super-cool looks, there’s a reason that the gun has been just as popular with military units and SWAT teams across the world for the last fifty years . . .
The MP5 was developed during a period in history where small pistol caliber submachine guns were all the rage with military and law enforcement units. The guns were designed to be as small as possible, allowing them to be stashed in tight places and easily maneuvered in close quarters. To fill those roles, the various major firearms manufacturing countries all came up with their own designs: Italy developed the M12, America developed the MAC-10, and Germany developed the MP5.
H&K had just finished developing Germany’s newest battle rifle, the G3. The idea at the time was to produce a series of firearms that all had the same manual of arms and operating principles. H&K decided that the roller-delayed blowback action was the way to go. The mechanics of that action were what made the German MG42 machine gun so fast and deadly, and giving that same kind of firepower to the individual soldier seemed like the perfect next step.
For about ten years, the original MP5 reigned supreme. The gun met all of the requirements military and law enforcement units were looking for and performed well in the field. But for some, the gun was still far too big. Even with the collapsible stock that came with the MP5A3 the thing was still too big to comfortably conceal under a trench coat or in a briefcase, and still didn’t quite fit in some extreme close-quarters situations. There was a demand to make the small SMG even smaller and H&K responded with the MP5K.
The “K” stands for kurz — “short” in German. In order to make the gun even smaller the Germans had shortened the barrel and forend, and also trimmed the rear end of the bolt and receiver. The original K version came out around 1971 for the special forces crowd and used a flat base plate at the end of the gun. A 1991 revision saw the addition of a folding stock for comfort and ease of use. The base plate can also be swapped for a standard fixed stock if you really feel like it, but that kind of defeats the point of the gun.
Disassembling the gun is easy as pie — punch out three pins and the guts of the gun spill straight onto the workbench. Getting the bolt disassembled and re-assembled can be a bother though; the procedure calls for twisting the bolt relative to the bolt carrier, and getting everything aligned to reverse the operation usually takes me a couple minutes. There is one slight issue, namely that the receiver is cavernous and cleaning it all can be a pain.
The general rule of thumb is that a smaller firearm is a less controllable, less comfortable firearm, but with the MP5K that doesn’t seem to be the case. Even the compact handguard at the front of the gun provides sufficient purchase for your hand, and the convenient vertical foregrip allows the shooter to apply some downward pressure to keep the gun from “walking” in full-auto. There’s also nothing to worry about in terms of a reciprocating charging handle — it doesn’t move so your thumbs are safe no matter where you put them other than in front of the muzzle, of course.
(I know, it’s an MP5SD in the video, sue me.)
The MP5K is an absolute dream on the range. Every firearm in the MP5 family has the same basic characteristics. Some, like the SD, just happen to be a little softer shooting than others. The MP5K seems to have the exact same level of recoil as its bigger brothers which makes the gun very easy to keep on target even in full-auto.
I do have some gripes, though.
As with the rest of the MP5 line, the safety selector is relatively terrible. It’s not quite as poorly positioned as the KRISS Vector, but engaging the selector with my thumb is about as comfortable and ergonomic as trying to grab a half-fallen potato chip bag from inside a vending machine. I’m grateful that it’s ambidextrous, but it could definitely use a bit of a redesign in my opinion.
Also problematic is the lack of a last round bolt hold-open feature. It’s something we have come to expect from modern guns, allowing the shooter to know when they are empty in order to quickly reload a fresh magazine. The MP5 doesn’t offer that though, meaning the shooter has to manually operate the action for each new mag.
As is, the MP5K is a very good gun. It’s controllable in full auto, easy to conceal and fun to shoot. But the best feature is definitely the after market parts. The MP5K is awesome as it comes from the factory, but once you start kitting it out with silencers, drum magazines and the like make it even more fun. Anything is instantly twice as fun as soon as you add a can — it’s a well documented phenomena.
There’s one problem, though: the gun is massively outdated. Stamped sheet metal, press-fitted barrels and riveted parts were fine and dandy in 1970. But the modern art of firearms manufacture has progressed a little since then. It’s gotten to the point where military and law enforcement units have started actively searching for replacement firearms rather than spend the piles of money it would cost to maintain their existing MP5 stockpiles. If I had my choice, SIG Sauer’s MPX would be my personal modern PDW. But there’s no denying that any quality machine gun collection should have at least one MP5. Why not make it a K?
Heckler & Koch MP5K-PDW
Barrel: 4.5 inches
Size: 23.7 inches extended, 14.5 inches compact
Weight: 5.5 lbs empty
Capacity: 30 round magazine
Ratings (Out of Five Stars):
(All ratings are relative compared to the other weapons in the gun’s category.)
Accuracy: * * * *
Easy to control, but with a slightly high rate of fire (~900 rounds per minute).
Ergonomics: * * * *
The safety selector is awkward to use and the gun is a bit too short for my gigantic paws.
Ergonomics Firing: * * * *
No bolt hold open on the last round, and the magazine release is awkward.
Customization: * * * *
There are tons of aftermarket parts, from silencers and buttstocks to slings and replacement sights.
Overall Rating: * * *
Modern firearms manufacturing definitely seems to have left the MP5 family behind, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a blast to shoot.